Posted by: episystechpubs | October 15, 2014

Editor’s Corner: A or An?

Guten tag!

After last week’s “Inspiring Initialisms” email, one of our readers had a burning question about using a or an with numbers. Specifically, he asked whether it is correct to write “starts with a 1” or “starts with an 1.”

As we learned last week, a comes before words that begin with a consonant sound, while an comes before words that begin with a vowel sound. However, even after saying it out loud I was a little unsure what the number 1 sounds like, so I checked my handy-dandy online Merriam-Webster dictionary. (And if you’re giggling about the sound of the number 1, shame on you!)

Aha! By the power vested in Merriam-Webster, we pronounce the number 1 as ˈwən, which starts with the consonant w. So, according to the rule, you should write “a 1” because the number 1 starts with a consonant sound. You would still use a if you spelled out the number 1, because the word one is also pronounced ˈwən.

According to the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, section 5.72, the tricky y, h, and w sounds count as a consonant sound:

A comes before words with a consonant sound, including /y/, /h/, and /w/, no matter how the word is spelled {a eulogy} {a historic occasion} {a Ouachita tribe member}. An comes before words with a vowel sound {an LSAT exam room} {an X-Files episode} {an hour ago}.

In section 7.44, the authors further clarify that the same word can have a or an in front of it, depending on how the word is pronounced:

In the last two examples, 007 would be pronounced oh oh seven and double oh seven, respectively.

an 007 field (in a library catalog) [LB – An is in front because this 007 starts with the vowel sound
o in oh.]

a 007-style agent [LB –
A is in front because this 007 starts with the consonant sound d
in double.]

Now I’m craving some of the appropriately named A.1. sauce. Mmm.


Laura Bowers | Technical Writer | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. l San Diego, CA 92123-1507

619.542.6935 l or Ext. 766935

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